How to keep your brain amazing!
A new programme to improve the emotional wellbeing and resilience of primary school children has been designed by psychologists and cognitive behavioural therapists at South London and Maudsley. CUES-Ed is taught in schools to help children recognise how they feel, think and behave, and to learn how to talk about this with others. It encourages them to recognise when things aren’t right – such as an increase in worrying or difficulties in friendship groups – and teaches them simple coping strategies to deal with these challenges.
Inspired by children
CUES-Ed was inspired by feedback from children experiencing mental health difficulties. The CAMHS team at SLaM (along with colleagues from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience) wanted to see if cognitive behavioural therapy could help children experiencing distressing and unusual experiences (such as hearing a voice that other people can’t hear). The therapy was designed to help children develop coping strategies that would reduce their distress and build their resilience.
Those who took part in the Coping with Unusual Experiences Study (CUES) found the therapy helpful, but felt that all children should be taught it at an earlier age. They also suggested that there is a silence around mental wellbeing and emotional vulnerability at school, and that there is still stigma surrounding mental health issues.
So the team decided to devise a programme that would educate children about maintaining their mental health and help build resilience from a young age. Its delivery has been designed as a whole class approach, with the aim of normalising discussions about mental health.
Fun and interactive sessions
The 'Who I Am and What I Can: How to Keep Your Brain Amazing' package consists of six sessions run by SLaM psychologists and CBT therapists, with teachers actively involved in each session.
‘The six sessions are delivered to whole classes of 7 to 10-year-olds in an active and engaging way,’ explains Debbie Plant, Clinical Psychologist and team lead who also takes a lead on delivery of the sessions.
‘The cognitive behavioural therapy approach enables children to learn that their thoughts, feelings and behaviour are interconnected and that there are practical things they can do to manage life’s ups and downs, both at home and at school.’
The children are taught a range of cognitive and behavioural coping strategies like relaxation, problem solving and positive self-talk. The sessions are fun and interactive, making use of a variety of materials and media including animations, video clips, music, quizzes and fun hands-on activities.
The colourful branding has been made specifically with children in mind, with direction taken from kids who took part in the pilot programme.
‘The designs help the abstract ideas become more concrete and make learning more memorable. The aim is to engage children in a positive, creative, fun manner whilst developing a strong understanding of mental health and wellbeing,’ says Karen Bracegirdle (CBT Therapist involved in the creation and development of CUES-Ed).
The children receive Ed’s Survival Pack (Ed is the mascot of the programme) to reinforce and encourage learning between the sessions, and teachers are encouraged to set the children home tasks so they can practice what they’ve learnt in their day-to-day lives.
An ongoing project
Since finishing a successful pilot study which had positive feedback, the team have worked with over 350 children across six schools in Southwark. There is great potential for the programme to benefit even more children from different age groups. The team are frequently asked by head teachers whether the package is available for both older and younger primary school children, and in future the team hope to expand and adapt the materials to meet local needs.
Help us continue our work supporting children, young people and adults with mental health issues. Please make a donation to SLaM today.